Archive for September, 2010

Extensive Listening Practice and Input Enhancement Using Mobile Phones

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Fresh off the press!

September 2010 – Volume 14, Number 2
Extensive Listening Practice and Input Enhancement Using Mobile Phones:
Encouraging Out-of-Class Learning with Mobile Phones
Platform Mobile phone or other mobile device capable of playing mp3 files
Other software and hardware used Audacity sound editing software and a computer capable of running it

Reinders, H. and Cho, M.


The use of mobile phones and other mobile devices for educational purposes has received increasing attention in recent years (Chinnery, 2006). Teachers and materials designers are starting to explore the potential of ubiquitous, relatively cheap and increasingly powerful devices as potential supports for learning and teaching. This is partly in response to learner expectations: already in 2003 a study (Thornton & Houser, 2003) found that young Japanese learners preferred to use their cellphone for almost everything, from emailing to reading books and this trend has continued, also outside Japan. A recent study in Taiwan showed that language learners enjoyed learning with their mobile phones, largely because they could learn when and where they wanted but also, interestingly, because they felt that the ‘bite-sized chunks’ of learning content (due to limitations such as screen size) were actually helpful to them in managing their learning (Chen, Hsieh, & Kinshuk, 2008). There are other potential pedagogical advantages too. Mobile phones are taken everywhere and can therefore support situated learning. For example, a second language speaker who needs to see a doctor could access relevant vocabulary and expressions while actually at the clinic. Situated learning theory holds that learning is more likely to take place when the information is contextually relevant to the learner and when it can be put to use immediately (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Related to this is the obvious fact that phones are social tools; they facilitate all forms of communication and collaboration between peers. In this way they support social and constructive activities, as supported by sociocultural theories of learning.

Another advantage of mobile devices is that they can help minimize the separation between the classroom and the out-of-school environment (Reinders & Lewis 2009). Applied linguists agree on little when it comes to theories for explaining language learning but one thing seems clear; more exposure to the target language and more practice (“time on task”) generally explain most of the variation in students’ success. Any tool then that can help increase students’ access to the language will be helpful for long-term success.

In Korea, as in most EFL settings, many students do not seem to take up opportunities for practice such as those afforded by the internet, TV, or magazines and there is a general reluctance to seek out ways of engaging with the English language outside the classroom. We were keen to encourage our learners to feel comfortable with exposure to English and to feel in control of their independent learning experience. Using mobile phones to give students access to English, in particular for extensive listening practice, seemed a logical choice.

Extensive Listening through Audiobooks

Extensive listening is in many ways similar to extensive reading; students primarily focus on meaning rather than form, and are exposed to texts for relatively long stretches at a time. The purpose is to provide students with as much target language input as possible. Extensive listening has been shown to have considerable benefits for vocabulary development, accent recognition, and also students’ productive skills, in particular pronunciation and speaking (cf. Renandya & Farrell, 2010). There are also benefits to developing motivation. Many students report great satisfaction when they are first able to understand a news broadcast or a TV program, for example (Ryan, 1998). However, extensive listening practice is difficult to do in class for practical reasons, and the classroom may not be the best place if the aim is to get students into the habit of engaging with the language on their own and to encourage them to take ownership of their practice. It is therefore important to find ways for students to listen to music, presentations, radio programmes, or other spoken text, as frequently as possible.

One type of spoken text that has become very popular in recent years is the audiobook. These are books that are read out loud, usually by professional speakers. There are both abridged and unabridged books, and there are also many graded readers that come with cassettes or CD. They have the obvious advantage that they encourage students to listen for meaning over extended periods of time, and therefore have the same benefits that extensive reading of printed books brings. Books can be bought from vendors ( is the most popular site for authentic materials and most publishers that sell graded readers also have audiobooks available), but there is also an increasing number of sites that offer free audiobooks, notably Project Gutenberg ( Thousands of different titles are offered in audiobook format, both fiction and non-fiction, recent popular books and classics. It is therefore relatively easy to find titles that are interesting to learners, or relevant in the context of a particular course.

Input Enhancement

As important as it is to encourage extensive listening and listening for meaning, previous research has shown that drawing learners’ attention to more formal aspects of the language, such as a certain grammar point, in an otherwise meaning-oriented activity (such as a classroom activity, or when reading a book), can help learners to remember the grammar point better (see Norris & Ortega, 2000). We were therefore interested in encouraging our learners to pay attention to both form and meaning without interrupting their listening, for example, by giving them specific grammar instruction. One way to do this is through input enhancement. This is a technique that simply involves manipulating the L2 input in some way that makes it more likely that learners will notice certain parts of it. For example, in a written text, each occurrence of the past perfect could be underlined, or each indefinite article bolded. There are many studies of input enhancement that show that it has the potential to get learners to pay attention to form while keeping their main focus on the meaning of the input.

Input enhancement is almost always done with written text. In our case we used it for listening by digitally manipulating the audiobook and by slightly raising the volume of each occurrence of the passive and adverb placement in the book. Below we describe how we did this.

How We Did It

Participants in this project were 68 freshman students enrolled in a business administration program at a university in Korea. All of them were taking a compulsory course in “Academic English for Business Majors,” which focuses on the development of communicative skills. Most of the students in the class were at the intermediate level. Their main areas of weakness were in listening and speaking.

Step 1—Selection of the listening materials

We chose listening materials based on the level of the recording and the interests of our students. Extensive listening is quite demanding as learners cannot (or at least are not supposed to) control the speed of the recording, nor go back to a previous section. Also, for most of our Korean learners, listening to an entire book would be a new experience. Our priority was thus to select a title that was somewhat challenging but easy enough to encourage learners to persist in and enjoy listening to it. After examining vocabulary levels, average sentence complexity, and book length, we selected a popular business title called Peaks and valleys by Spencer Johnson (2009), a relatively short book about how to successfully manage the ups and downs in one’s life. The text itself consists mainly of conversations rather than lengthy narrative sections, and it is only one and a half hours long. This seemed ideal for our purposes.

It is also important to note that we obtained the publisher’s (Pearson Education) express written permission to use this copyrighted work for the purposes of this study.

Step 2—Identifying target grammar structures

Once we had selected the book we decided on two grammatical structures that we wanted to highlight. We decided on adverb placement and passives because we knew these to be somewhat familiar to our students, but not fully developed. Also, we knew these grammar points had not been covered in the students’ university English courses. As for adverb placement, we were interested in students noticing and learning the correct word order (SAVO, as opposed to *SVAO):

The rain had completely washed away the path.

*The rain had washed away completely the path

Most students are aware of passives but because of a lack of exposure to authentic input, are not familiar with recognising them in longer stretches of text, or in spoken contexts. We were interested in the students noticing and learning the difference between:

The young man was exhausted by the events of the week.

*The young man exhausted by the events of the week.

There were a total of 65 instances of adverb placement and 55 passives in the text.

Step 3—Digital input enhancement

Next, we had to make these grammatical features stand out from the surrounding text in some way. We decided to artificially increase the volume of each occurrence of our target structures by about 20%. This made the target items noticeably louder but not so much so that it would interrupt their listening experience.

We transferred the audio CDs to a computer and converted them to mp3 files using the free sound manipulation program called Audacity (, and we also used this program to raise the volume of the target items.

Step 4—Transferring the listening materials to students’ phones

We uploaded the mp3 files to the university’s course management system and asked students to download the materials to their mobile phones. Since the ability to download and play mp3 files is now a standard feature of mobile phones, this process was straightforward and trouble-free. For language teachers who do not have access to an institutional course management system, a free alternative is Moodle (, or free web services such as Google apps for education.

Step 5—Instructions to the students

Extensive listening is not familiar practice for most EFL learners, certainly not in Korea, so it was important for us to explain to students what the purpose and benefits of the exercise were. We told students to “simply enjoy the story” and not to worry about understanding every word or expression, and to “just keep listening.” We told them not to use dictionaries or grammar books, but to listen to the story as they would listen to a story in Korean. We also told them not to listen to the book more than once or to rewind while listening. To help them get started we gave them some background information about the story and some information about the author. We told students that the book would be discussed in class and that therefore everyone had to listen to it. We gave students one week to complete the book. They were also told that the book would be talked about in class and that they would be asked about the content of the book on their final exam. We did not tell them about the grammar points we had enhanced. These grammar points were not covered in class in that week (or in the weeks prior).

How Did It Go?

One important goal for us was to motivate students to engage in extensive listening and to give them more exposure to English outside the classroom. In this we were generally successful. Most students were enthusiastic about using their mobile phones for learning and were excited about being given practice materials that they could use in their own time and outside the classroom. Some students specifically mentioned that they did not feel the same pressure as they often experienced in class, or the same expectations as with ‘regular’ homework. The fact that they were told to simply listen to the story and did not have to memorise vocabulary or study the content for a test increased their enjoyment. Others said that it was an exciting experience, and they liked that they could easily access English materials while waiting for friends or travelling on the bus; time that would otherwise have been lost. Students also liked having materials available to them on their mobile phones, as they carry these with them at all times and are able to control when and for how long to listen to the materials. As a result, we suspect that this type of activity can have longer-term positive benefits, both by increasing the chances of students accessing English materials, and also by lowering students’ affective filter and increasing their motivation.

Not all students were positive, though. Some said that they found the changes in volume distracting and one student even thought there was a technical problem with the recording. Unlike more common forms of input enhancement, such as bolding or underlining, perhaps students need to be told to pay attention to those parts of the text that are louder than others.

Our second purpose was to encourage students to focus not only on meaning but also on form, in our case adverb placement and passives. Our intention was to investigate empirically whether they had noticed and acquired these features simply by listening to the story. However, we encountered several problems. Firstly, it was clear that some students had in fact listened to the book more than once. Although we were pleased with their enthusiasm, this did make it impossible to make comparisons between students, especially since it became clear that some students had not completed the entire recording. This meant that they had not received the same amount of exposure as other students. Finally, some students had already read the book in either Korean or in English before, making it difficult to determine the effect of listening to the book. As a result, we are unable at this point to say whether the input enhancement had any effect. We intend to conduct a more controlled study in the next course.

Lessons Learned

The use of mobile phones for extensive listening practice seems to hold promise, as does the use of input enhancement in spoken texts. However, there are some points to keep in mind when considering the use of either the tool or the technique. In our first attempt at using audiobooks we made a number of mistakes, the most important of which was that we did not link the listening activity closely enough with what happened in class. Therefore, some students did not complete the task of listening to the books. Perhaps they saw the activity as less important, because it was not clearly tied in with the rest of the curriculum. It is important to treat, at least initially, the listening activity as any other type of learning task: It requires clear instructions, a purpose, and a feedback mechanism. Students will need to understand what the purpose of the activity is (sometimes students stop and look up every word they do not know) and perhaps show them some strategies for extensive listening first. Teachers could ask students to do something after listening to the book, such as post a review on a publisher’s website, or (if their writing skills are not yet advanced), a rating on a site like Amazon. You could build on the story in class and ask students to tell each other what they thought of it. Most importantly, students probably will need to feel that they are supported in some way. This also applied to the use of input enhancement; without instruction about, or at least familiarity with, the use of volume to make certain grammar points stand out in the spoken text, some students were confused, or even distracted.

There are some other potential downsides to using mobile technology. Although this does not apply in Korea, in many countries not everyone has a mobile phone and even where students do, they may not want to use it for school purposes. It is important to consider issues of access to the technology, ease of use and privacy before requiring students to use their phones for educational purposes.

Conclusion: Using Mobile Phones for Language Teaching

Activities such as the one we outlined above are based on research in second language acquisition and, we believe, are pedagogically sound, but have the added benefit of using a tool that our learners are intimately familiar with. Mobile technology has real potential to extend learning opportunities outside the classroom and give learners more control. In the next course we aim to create more extensive activities around books. We also aim to investigate empirically the effects of the extensive listening and the input enhancement techniques, and to study other types of input enhancement, such as the inclusion of short pauses before and after certain grammar points. For now, we are excited about the possibility of mobile learning and plan to include it in our teaching more often. Based on our first experiences, we are convinced our students will appreciate this.


Chen, N., Hsieh, S., & Kinshuk. (2008). Effects of short-term memory and content representation type on mobile language learning. Language learning & technology, 12(3), 93-113.

Chinnery, G. (2006). Going to the MALL: Mobile assisted language learning. Language learning & technology, 10(1), 9-16.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2000). Effectiveness of L2 instruction: A research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis. Language Learning, 50, 417-528.

Reinders, H. and Lewis, M. (2009). Podquests: Language games on the go. In Andreade, M. (Ed.), Language Games. Alexandria: TESOL.

Renandya. W. & Farrell. T. (in press). Teacher, the tape is too fast! Extensive listening in ELT. ELT journal, 64(2). doi:10.1093/elt/ccq015.

Ryan, S. (1998). Using films to develop learner motivation. The Internet TESL Journal, 9(11). Retrieved May 15, 2010 from

Thornton P. & Houser C. (2003). Using mobile web and video phones in English language teaching: Projects with Japanese college students. In B. Morrison, C. Green & G. Motteram (Eds.), Directions in CALL: Experience, experiments and evaluation (207–224). Honk Kong: English Language Centre, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
About the Authors

Dr. Hayo Reinders is Head of Language and Learning Support at Middlesex University in London and Adjunct Professor at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. He is also Editor of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, and Convenor of the AILA Research Network for CALL and the Learner. He was previously a section editor for TLT. Hayo’s interests are in CALL, autonomy, and out-of-class learning and he is a speaker for the Royal Society of New Zealand. His most recent books are on teacher autonomy, teaching methodologies, and second language acquisition and he edits a book series on “New Language Learning and Teaching Environments” for Palgrave Macmillan. He can be reached at

Min Young Cho is a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii. She taught English at elementary and middle schools in Korea and conducts research on the role of aural input enhancement and the use of mobile phones for L2 acquisition. She serves as a research coordinator of the AILA Research Network for CALL and the Language Learner.

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Copyright © 1994 – 2010 TESL-EJ, ISSN 1072-4303
Copyright rests with the authors.

Around Europe in 80 days

Monday, September 27th, 2010

A great, fun website for learning languages for younger learners. More here.


Learning English on a mobile phone in Bangladesh

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Janala is a project by the BBC that brings short 2-3 minute audio lessons to people in Bangladesh on their mobile phones. In a deal with local telcos users pay reduced rates for downloading the materials. You can read more about this fascinating project here.


Quest Atlantis

Monday, September 20th, 2010

I’m sure many of you will be familiar with Quest Atlantis, the 3D educational game for kids aged 9-16. I just found this video that describes the project and the game:

Here is a description:

Quest Atlantis (QA) is an international learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-16, in educational tasks. QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allows users to travel to virtual places to perform educational activities (known as Quests), talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. The project is intended to engage children ages 9–16 in a form of transformational play comprising both online and off-line learning activities, with a storyline inspiring a disposition towards social action. Quest Atlantis provides students entire worlds in which they are central, important participants; a place where their actions have significant impact on the world, and a place in which what one knows is directly related to what they are able to do and, ultimately, who they can become. Explore our site and learn more about this exciting project.
Over the last four years, more than 50,000 children on six continents have participated in the project, submitting over 50,000 Quests and completing over 100,000 Missions, some of which were assigned by teachers and many of which were chosen by students to complete in their free time. We are in 22 states, 18 countries, more than 1000 classrooms, and the number of schools asking to participate grows daily. We have demonstrated learning gains in science, language arts, and social studies. Equally important have been reported personal experiences, with teachers and students reporting increased levels of engagement and interest in pursuing the curricular issues outside of school. Students and teachers conduct rich inquiry-based explorations through which they learn particular standards-based content, and at the same time develop pro-social attitudes regarding significant environmental and social issues. Rather than just placing work and play side-by-side, QA strives to make learning fun and to show kids how they can make a difference. See the Herald Sun article.
At the core of student activity with QA is the completion of Quests. A Quest is an engaging curricular task designed to be educational and entertaining. In completing Quests, students are required to participate in simulated and real world activities that are socially and academically meaningful, such as environmental studies, researching other cultures, interviewing community members, and developing action plans. Through these activities, we hope that children will not only learn to use technology but will develop standards-based academic and communication skills as well.
All of the academic activities are embedded in a secure online gaming context where children explore our 3D virtual environment, “chat” online with other students and teachers using QA, and take part in the story of Atlantis – a complex civilization on a faraway planet that is similar to our own and in need of help. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines features used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. More than just a game, Quest Atlantis offers weblogs (or “blogs”) written by Atlantians, novels, comic books, cards, and a host of social opportunities. QA is about community.
We should note that a professional development course is mandatory for all new Quest Atlantis teachers. While there has been very high demand by interested teachers and schools, the technology is complex and requires committed teachers. One of the early challenges with scaling our project has been supporting teachers around the globe in effectively using such a technologically-advanced and pedagogically challenging curriculum. We believe our online professional development module allows teachers to effectively integrate this innovative curriculum into their classrooms. Through our QA-PD we familiarize teachers with the technology and a wide range of opportunities in QA, as well as with the inquiry-based pedagogical approaches which are most likely to lead to successful, exciting implementation. Rather than being prescriptive, we see our PD as a learning opportunity that gives teachers the tools to get the most out of a very flexible, fun curriculum.
We are hopeful that the Quest Atlantis Project has captured your interest. We think that QA offers an innovative, academically sound, and highly motivating curriculum.
The Quest Atlantis Team

Just for fun…

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give a fish a man, and he’ll eat for weeks!
– Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata


Eurocall symposium presentation on ‘the learner in changing CALL environments’

Monday, September 13th, 2010

These are the slides as presented during a panel at Eurocall 2010 in Bordeaux. Presenters were Glenn Stockwell, Hayo Reinders, Cynthia White, Phil Hubbard and Jozef Colpaert. For more information visit

Eduapps – free software to support learning

Friday, September 10th, 2010

From is an initiative developed by the JISC Regional Support Centre Scotland North & East and consists of seven useful software collections that are free for you to download and use.

The EduApps Family – the magnificent seven

* AccessApps, provides a range of solutions to support writing, reading and planning, as well as sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties.
* TeachApps, is a collection of software specifically designed for teachers or lecturers.
* LearnApps, as its name implies, is specifically designed for learners. All learners or students can benefit from LearnApps.
* MyStudyBar, is our most popular program, providing a suite of apps to support literacy.
* MyVisBar, a high contrast floating toolbar, designed to support learners with visual difficulties.
* MyAccess, is our new kid on the block, a portal to all your favourite and accessible applications providing inclusive e-learning options for all.
* Accessible Formatting WordBar, create accessible Word documents with ease using our innovative WordBar.


New book out now: Task-based Teaching & Technology

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

It’s arrived, our edited book on ‘Task-Based Language Teaching and Technology’, published by Continuum in New York. The book is available here.

This edited collection considers the relationship between task-based language teaching (TBLT) and technology-enhanced learning. TBLT is concerned with a number of macro-tasks such as information gathering and problem-solving as well as evaluative tasks, all of which are increasingly available via online and Web-based technologies. Technology Enhanced Learning refers to a broad conception of technology use in the language classroom and incorporates a range of interactive learning technologies such as Interactive Whiteboards and mobile learning devices.

The popularity of Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, social networking sites, podcasting, virtual worlds), as well as practical applications of mobile learning, place a fresh emphasis on creating project-orientated language learning tasks with a clear real-world significance for learners of foreign languages. This book examines the widespread interest in these new technology-enhanced learning environments and looks at how they are being used to promote task-based learning. This book will appeal to practioners and researchers in applied linguistics, second language acquisition and education studies.

Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations \ List of Figures and Tables \ List of Contributors \ Foreword Rod Ellis \ 1. Introduction Michael Thomas and Hayo Reinders \ PART I. RESEARCH ON TASKS IN CALL \ 2. Research on the Use of Technology in Task-Based Language Teaching Andreas Müller-Hartmann and Marita Schocker-v. Ditfurth \ 3. Task-Based Language Teaching in Networked-Based CALL: An Analysis of Research on Learner Interaction in Synchronous CMC Mark Peterson \ 4. Taking Intelligent CALL to Task Matthias Schulze \ 5. Effects of Multimodality in Computer-Mediated Communication Tasks Glenn Stockwell \ 6. Measuring Complexity in Task-Based Synchronous Computer-Mediated Communication Karina Collentine \ PART II. APPLYING TECHNOLOGY-MEDIATED TASKS \ 7. Task Design for a Virtual Learning Environment in a Distance Language Course Regine Hampel \ 8. Teacher Development, TBLT and Technology Thomas Raith and Volker Hegelheimer \ 9. Edubba: Real-world Writing Tasks in a Virtual World Kenneth Reeder \ 10. The Enactment of Task Design in Telecollaboration 2.0 Mirjam Hauck \ 11. Afterword: Future Directions for Technology-Mediated Tasks Gary Motteram and Michael Thomas \ Index

‘Though task-based and technology-mediated language instruction are a natural match, no works before this edited collected have explained the relationship so clearly. Highly recommended for researchers and practitioners alike who are interested in how authentic interaction via digital media can improve second language learning.’
– Mark Warschauer


Here is the foreword written by Rod Ellis:


Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is currently attracting enormous interest as reflected in the number of books published on this topic in the last few years. An obvious question, then, is ‘Why do we need another book on TBLT?’ In fact, there is a very good answer to this question. The current literature deals almost exclusively with TBLT as practised in face-to-face classrooms. There is still relatively little published about TBLT in technology-mediated contexts. This book, therefore, fills a clear gap. I personally welcome this book because my own knowledge of how technology can be used in TBLT is very limited.

One line of research that I do have some familiarity with is the study of synchronous computer-mediated communication (CMC) and its role in second language (L2) acquisition. Much of this work has been informed by interactionist theories of L2 acquisition. These hypothesize that negotiation-of-meaning sequences support learning by providing comprehensible input, feedback and opportunities for learners to self-correct. Smith’s (2003, 2005) studies investigated whether negotiation in a CMC context resulted in the same pattern of interaction as that reported to occur in face-to-face task-based interactions. Smith found that they differed. He identified what he called ‘split negotiation routines’, where the response to an indication of a communication problem only occurred after one or more repeat indications of the problem. He also reported that there was no relationship between learners’ uptake of feedback (with or without repair) and the acquisition of L2 vocabulary items. Loewen and Erlam (2006) investigated the effect of corrective feedback on acquisition in L2 learners’ performance of a task in a synchronous learning environment. They reported that the feedback had no effect on the learning of regular past tense. This result differs from that of Ellis, Loewen and Erlam (2006) who found significant effects for corrective feedback on the acquisition of the same grammatical feature in a classroom-based study. These studies suggest that interaction in a synchronous computer-mediated environment may not afford the same learning opportunities as a face-to-face environment. Clearly, though, there is a need for further studies.

There are theoretical perspectives on tasks other than that afforded by the Interaction Hypothesis. Skehan (1998), for example, proposed a theory based on a dual-mode model of linguistic representation. This states ‘two systems co-exist, the rule-based analytic, on the one hand, and the formulaic, exemplar-based on the other’ (p. 54). The rule-based system consists of powerful ‘generative’ rules and is required to compute well-formed sentences. The exemplar-based system is capacious, with the contents organized in accordance with the ‘idiom principle’ (Sinclair, 1991), and is required for fast, fluent language use. Skehan argued that ‘language users can move between these systems, and do so quite naturally’ (1998, p. 54). Skehan draws on this theory in his own work on tasks to investigate how various design features of tasks (e.g. whether the task is tightly or loosely structured) and implementation features (e.g. whether learners have the opportunity to plan before they perform the task) impact on three aspects of language production – fluency, complexity and accuracy. In a similar mode, Robinson (2001) has advanced his Cognition Hypothesis to explain how task complexity affects L2 production. To date, these theories have been tested on tasks performed in face-to-face interaction so there is a clear need for studies that investigate their claims in relation to technology-mediated L2 production.

Increasingly, tasks are also being investigated from the perspective of sociocultural theory. This views tasks as artefacts that can mediate language learning through interaction. Accordingly, a distinction is made between ‘task’ and ‘activity’, with the former referring to the workplan that is given to learners (i.e. the artefact) and the latter to the communication that results from the performance of the task. The point is made that learners inevitably interpret the workplan in terms of their own needs, motives and histories, and thus the same task can result in very different kinds of activity when performed by different learners or even by the same learners on different occasions and in different contexts. This is clearly fertile ground for the study of how learners construct tasks in technological environments. Some work has already been undertaken here (see, for example, Thorne & Black, 2007) but much more is needed.

We cannot assume that tasks work the same way in face-to-face classrooms and in technology-mediated environments. Nor can we assume that they work in the same way in the highly varied environments that technology now affords. Given the current advocacy of TBLT and the increasing use of technology in language teaching it is important that we develop a fuller understanding of how to design tasks for use with different technologies and how best to implement them in ways that will foster language learning. This book makes a notable contribution to this agenda and is very welcome.


Ellis, R., Loewen, S., & Erlam, R. (2006). Implicit and explicit corrective feedback and the acquisition of L2 grammar. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28, 339–68.
Loewen, S., & Erlam, R. (2006). Corrective feedback in the chatroom: An experimental study. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 19(1), 1-14.
Robinson P. (2001). Task complexity, cognitive resources, and syllabus design: A triadic framework for examining task influences on SLA. In P. Robinson (Ed.). Cognition and second language instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, B. (2003). The use of communication strategies in computer-mediated communication. System, 31, 29–53.
Smith, B. (2005). The relationship between negotiated interaction, learner uptake and lexical acquisition in task-based computer-mediated communication. TESOL Quarterly, 39, 33–58.
Thorne, S., & Black, R. (2007). Language and literacy development in computer-mediated contexts and communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 27, 1-28.

Professor Rod Ellis
University of Auckland, New Zealand

Learn languages through…soccer

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

A EU-funded project, is a website ‘to promote language learning among young football fans. This site contains games and activities to make language learning fun. We hope football can be a window to new cultures and friendships for young people all around the world.’ A great way to generate informal interest in languages and motivate interacting in the language based on learners’ interests.


Mission Europe

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Mission Europe is a language learning programme that uses radio broadcasts in different languages. As a listener you participate in a story, which on the website reads:
Immerse yourself in the world of languages with three exciting Mission Europe adventures. Mission Berlin, Misja Kraków and Mission Paris offer an interesting approach to language learning in 26 episodes. You experience three missions from the perspective of a computer player who joins virtual heroines on adventures in France, Poland and Germany.

In Mission Berlin, the player and the virtual heroine Anna fight against the enemies of re-unified Germany. In Misja Kraków, the player and Suzanna must halt the opponents of Poland’s EU accession. In Mission Paris, the player and the heroine Eva compete against an enemy who wants to return France to the era of Napoleon III and restore the Second Empire. After you’ve successfully completed your mission, you are rewarded with insight into a country, its language and its culture. Choose an adventure and discover the French, German or Polish language. And remember: Danger is lurking everywhere.

Sounds fun!